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The fairy tale landscape, dotted with numerous châteaux, will transport the visitor to a bygone era of French aristocracy that lived in the lap of luxury. You need look no further than the Loire Valley for a French holiday with old fashion style.
Explore The Loire Valley – Garden of France
The Loire Valley oozes elegance and refinement is present in every thread of its fabric. From its stunning architecture and scenery, to its wine and food, and even the locals, this rural region of France presents a uniquely sophisticated atmosphere to its tourists.
The majestic Loire River has carved out lush farm land and rock dwellings throughout. While touring the historical sites of this UNESCO World Heritage region, visitors should also visit local wineries to taste the regions best wines.
The châteaux that dot the landscape today, took root during the medieval Hundred Years' War between the French and the British, when castles were built as fortresses for Parisian royalty to escape to. By the end of the war in the 15th century, the castle fortresses were dismantled and rebuilt as palaces for pleasure and recreation for the royal families.
This was the period of the Renaissance, and the Loire Valley became the seat of the movement and the cradle of the French language. Historical towns sprung up all over the valley, and the work of 19th century painters and writers led to this region becoming a draw for tourists from all over France and Europe. Now it is known the world over for its romantic past.
Visitors may find it a challenge to pick just a few châteaux to visit, but the most popular are the Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny. The Château de Chambord is the largest in the region, and was originally built by François I as a hunting lodge, but was slowly converted to a weekend retreat.
The 440 room château is surrounded by lush forest, and towers, spires and chimneys rise from all corners. There is a grand double-spiralled staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who spent his final years in the neighbouring city of Amboise, as part of the king’s court.
The Château de Chenonceau is the most beautiful château in the valley, and it was first designed by the mistress of Henry II, with additions being made by his wife after he died.
The château is built over piers arching over the Cher River, giving it a unique charm. During World War II, the Chenonceau served as a border between free and Nazi France, where prisoner swaps used to take place. The Château de Cheverny is known for its opulent furnishings from the period of Louis XIII, and parts of it are still inhabited by descendants of the family that built it in 1634.
In addition to these three, the Château de Villandry has the best Renaissance style formal gardens, and the Château de Amboise is soaked in history, as it was home to the French King Louis XI, and the body of Leonardo da Vinci lies in one of its chapels.
Loire Valley; Towns and Villages
The Cathedral in Chartres is an outstanding example of the religious art of the 12th and 13th centuries, and you can see over 100 stained glass windows, many sculptures and ancient musical instruments. The Old Town lies at its foot and has a wealth of history to explore. The Gothic Cathedral of St-Etienne is the centre point of the town of Bourges, which is rich in medieval and Renaissance architecture.
In fact, the cities and towns of the Loire Valley have retained much of their charm and authenticity right from medieval times. The city of Orléans, once the second largest in France, was liberated from the British by Joan of Arc in the 15th century and commemorations to her can be seen all over the city today.
The town of Tours is the traditional jumping off point for tours of the Loire Valley. It is home to numerous mansions and museums, as well as the neighbouring medieval city of Chinon. The pretty town of Amboisewas the final home of Leonardo d Vinci, who lived in the Manor Clos Lucé, which is open to the public.
Food and Drink; Loire Valley
When you think French gastronomy, you think wine and cheese, and the Loire Valley is no exception. This region is the country’s leading producer of white and non-champagne sparkling wines, made from Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Most wines here are fruity and crisp, some of which are the Sancerres, the Pouilly-Fumés, the Vouvrays, the Savennières, the sparkling Saumurs, and the light and dry Muscadets.
A few reds and rosés can also be found here. The region is famous for its assertive goat cheeses or Chèvres, which are farmhouse-made and appellation controlled. The valley is also famous for large orchards and vegetable farms, where cherries, pears, strawberries, melons, white asparagus and mushrooms grow in plenty. Orléans is famous for its vinegar, and game is popular all over the valley.
Wine and cheese tastings can be arranged before hand, or visitors can drop into any vineyard with a “Degustation” sign. Guides can take you down into the cellars to get an up close look at the large wine collections. The cellars are actually stone caves, dug out of the rock that was originally used to build the châteaux in the area.
Some families have converted the smaller caves into homes and guesthouses, where visitors can expect a cosy stay while exploring the magical valley.
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